MANCHESTER, NH – When Sarah Maillet realized the subfloor behind the bar at the 815 speakeasy on Elm Street was failing she never imagined it would lead to a five-month hiatus and a major makeover.
Nobody’s got time for that in a post-COVID economy, where recapturing your customer base and recouping your losses is the only restaurant game in town.
But here they are on the other side of all that, and they are ready to introduce regulars and new customers alike to the upgraded 815 experience.
When Maillet and co-owner Ryan McCabe took over the space a decade ago and transformed it into a speakeasy with a secret entrance and a focus on classic cocktails, they refurbished the place completely.
Over time, however, the Band-Aid approach to the bigger issues wasn’t going to heal things, including some asbestos that had to go.
“Replacing the subfloors meant tearing up the bar and everything else,” said Maillet on Tuesday. And the work, which they thought might take a month or two, extended into summer and then fall.
“We originally were hoping to open for Fourth of July weekend,” Maillet said. Two weeks became two months and two months landed them at Oct, .3 – a summer-like day, perfect for a gathering of economic development cheerleaders to cut a ribbon and make it official.
At 4 p.m. Mayor Joyce Craig, Alderman June Trisciani, Jodie Nazaka and Erik Lesniak from the city’s Economic Development Office, members of the Chamber and other business leaders gathered on the sidewalk below the new 815 sign featuring a skeletal hand holding a martini with a pair of giant scissors and a ribbon in need of cutting, just in time for a 5 p.m. opening (see new hours below).
The real excitement, however, was in the big reveal.
One unique characteristic of 815 is that it’s located on the second floor. To get inside you have to climb the stairs or ride an elevator. As you enter the room you’ll notice everything gleams – from the sparkle on the floor and the walls to the copper-topped bar and string lights on the ceiling. No more curtains on the windows which means the entire space is brighter, and you can see the ceiling lights while strolling on the West side of Elm Street.
Airbrush art by Jay Mac aka @the_backstah (find him on Instagram)
The kitchen has been super-sized and is now under the direction of Chef Joe Levandowski.
Everything feels more spacious, from the bar area to the seating, which includes wooden tables with fresh-cut flowers, to colorful cushioned couches. And all the walls have been masterfully airbrushed by Nashua muralist Jay Mac, aka @the_backstah (on Instagram).
“Sarah started following me on Instagram because she was familiar with my work at the Fitlab in Nashua and Hudson,” says Jay Mac. A self-taught mural and graffiti artist, Jay Mac says he spent his early years making the kind of street art that gets you in trouble. But with so much talent, he decided to move in a positive direction. He’s built his own brand that includes clothing, Street Smart, and is in high demand for his mural work which has taken him around the country, from Florida to Hawaii.
“Within the first day of painting, Sarah was really excited that her vision was coming to life,” Jay Mac says. The entire job took him about five days to complete, and has everything to do with the theme refresh at 815.
The decision to not return to the original speakeasy concept, which included a weekly password required to get inside, Maillet says it was time to remove the hoops of entry – especially for regulars – and settle in as a destination bar and restaurant.
After COVID everything changed about how downtown businesses operated. Maillet says the only way to survive it has been to evolve.
“We were the first downtown bar to focus on classic cocktails, and so all of this is an ode to where we’ve been,” Maillet says. “It’s an evolution, and we’re excited to see where we go from here.”
815 Cocktails & Provisions is located at 815 Elm St., second floor. Hours are Tues.- Thurs., 5-11 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 5 p.m.-12 a.m.